By Richard Barre
Berkley Mystery, 273 pages, 1997, $5.99.

Reviewed by Rick McMahan (5/98)

Richard Barre is a new author to me, but a few months back I was out of town and had finished the last book I was reading and saw his book THE INNOCENTS (a Shamus Award novel for Best First Novel) on the bookstand and thought I'd give the book a try.

Wil Hardesty is the PI hero in THE INNOCENTS, a very compelling and human hero with his own angst that he's struggling to deal with. Barre's writing breathes life and believability into Hardesty and Hardesty's world. He comes to life. Hardesty and his wife are just regaining some stability and normalcy in their life after the death of their only son. Hardesty, after a battle with mind-numbing substances, is on wobbly legs but ready to start his career again when a friend comes to him with a request. The authorities have uncovered the skeletal remains of seven young children, "the Innocents," who were killed over twenty years ago. Hardesty's friend wants Wil to take a client--a man who claims that one of the victim's was his son -- a son he gave up in Mexico in a deal with the devil to get his family across to the United States. The man had given his son up thinking the boy would be adopted by a rich American family, but he knows his son was killed. He hires Wil Hardesty to find the man he knew by a name twenty years before, a man he is certain killed his son.

Richard Barre's writing ability is obviously why he won a Shamus, but I had some small problems with the tale. Have you ever had a car that was a good ride and you liked it, but something about the car always bothered and nagged at you and no matter how much you tried to ignore it? The problem made that beautiful car less than perfect. Well, that's the way I feel about Richard Barre's book THE INNOCENTS. The problems have to do with sequences and some character actions that sort of jarred my willingness-to-suspend disbelief, knocking it out of rhythm and it would take a chapter or two to get back into my rhythm.

Overall, I enjoyed Barre's writing, and I'll chalk up the jarring parts to my own idiosyncrasies or a new author gaining his voice. Give Richard Barre a read and keep your eye out for his next Wil Hardesty book, BEARING SECRETS due out soon.

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